Whether you’re in Italy, France or Malta, everybody should be subject to the same online prices and conditions, MEPs are arguing. But this hasn’t always been the case. Discriminating among European online shoppers depending on their location is finally set to become much more difficult in the EU, but some of the world’s biggest companies are exempt from the decision.
63% of websites do not let shoppers buy from another EU country, according to a “mystery shopping” survey conducted by the European Commission. This practice, known as ‘geo-blocking’, allows companies to discriminate based on residency and nationality. From recognizing an internet user’s IP address, the provider may either block content or redirect users to another website that allows their location. Such restrictions allow companies to charge different prices according to the consumer’s location.
Efforts have moved forward this week for a modern Digital Single Market after the European Parliament voted 557 to 89, on Tuesday 6 February, in favour of a regulation that abolishes unjustified geo-blocking.
But what does the ban actually mean?
The ban will widen access to online services such as shopping for household appliances, electronics and car rentals in the European Union. Treating consumers differently based on the place where their credit or debit card was issued is also said to be forbidden.
Removing geo-blocking is believed to lower prices across the European internal market and make it a fair level playing field for all.
What, and who, is absent from the ban?
Criticism from Europe’s primary consumer rights organization, BEUC, and other MEPs was received for exempting companies such as Spotify, Amazon Prime and Netflix from the decision which excludes digital copyrighted material such as e-books, audio visual content, computer games, and streaming services. However, it was said that the EU will re-assess these exemptions in 2020.
Also, the regulation does not require a company to actually deliver a physical product to all EU locations. That will have to remain a wish for many Maltese customers.
So what happens next?
The Parliament’s decision must be approved by the EU Member States before it can take effect. However, the ban is expected to enter into force before the end of 2018.
What were the reactions like?
As far as Malta goes, very positive.
MEPs David Casa, Marlene Mizzi and Roberta Metsola have already gone on record praising the ban and what it represents.
“The concept of geo-blocking goes against the fundamental principles of the European Union because it limits the free movement of merchandise and services between the Member States,” David Casa said. “The removal of geo-blocking can promote the economic growth while decreasing the prices of the whole internal market.”
“According to the new rules, consumers will be able to choose which website they’d like to buy from without being blocked or automatically sent to another website,” Marlene Mizzi said. “This is the basic aim of this proposition which we voted for, and it shows that our work as MEPs makes a difference in citizens’ every day life.”
“After the years of work to end unjustified mobile-phone roaming charges across the EU, we started on the next digital frontier,” Roberta Metsola said. “The new rules we’ve negotiated new forbid discrimination on nationality or residence grounds and prohibit redirecting users to another country specific site without their consent. Geo-blocking is the next digital barrier to fall.”